Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Doing, Being, Dreaming

Last week I had a surfing dream. I haven't had one of those in a while and this one certainly gave me something to think about. To minimize the bore that it can be to read about other people's dreams, I will be as brief as possible:

1) I paddle out behind a huge pack of men. If we surf in this configuration, someone will certainly get hurt. I  paddle around to the side, so that no one will crash into me.

2) I paddle out between two piers in a marina. Dolphins splash in the water in front of me. Then they start swimming towards shore. One of them almost crashes into me and gives me a very annoyed squeak.

3) My "surf instructor" tells me to surf into an empty house, through open windows and doors. "This is your wave," he says. "Take it."  "Screw that", I say. "This is NOT my wave"

4) Later, my "surf instructor" tries to fit his surfboard through the open windows and doors. Of course they don't fit. But he can't figure out why. He was sure they would.

5) Lastly, I sit on my board in the open ocean looking towards the shore. The water is glassy, not a wave in sight. I bob on the current, going nowhere. It's beautiful.

Sections 1through 4 suggest that - between the danger of other surfers crashing into me, dolphins annoyed at me for being in their way and going against the current, and "surf instructors" ordering me to do the un-doable - there's somewhere in my life that I'm not going with the flow. 

Section 5 suggests that, perhaps, sometimes the only thing to do is just sit.

I don't think there is a single spiritual teacher who would disagree with that message.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Expanding Beyond Balance

A good friend sent me this link today from parenting coach Scott Noelle. To all you mommies and daddies -  and all you children of mommies and daddies out there -  I recommend you read it.

In it, Scott points out that, while the catchword for most parents is "balance" - i.e. how to balance work vs. home, them vs. me, permissiveness vs. boundaries - a more potent kind of  power  is available for parents who explore "expansion": of ideas, of lifestyle, of possibility.

Ever since that day on the beach when I realized that I am not "separate" from my children (or from anyone), I've been exploring the possibilities of expansion. Parenting is not what I thought it was. In fact, I can't even say that I'd really "thought" about what it was at all. Instead, I'd inherited a mass of assumptions - from my own family, from history, from culture - that had gone largely unquestioned until now.

Truthfully, I started surfing to get the hell away from my family. I needed something for "me". Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Everyone, parents and kids alike, needs some time to themselves. The irony, however, is that the joy I've found in the water is bringing me closer to my family and more willing to spend time with them. And more likely to enjoy it. Not because I've necessarily found  "balance." After all, two hours of surfing a week does not equal the remaining 24/7.

Instead, I've been inspired to expand myself and my vision of what is possible for my family and for all families - including yours. Because  family is the foundation of any society, where families are unhealthy, stressed, and basically dysfunctional, the society that is built on top of them will suffer the same.  But where families are nurtured, functional and at ease - imagine what is possible.

Monday, July 11, 2011

More People From My Village

One day I stood in the waves lamenting the fact that - because I'd sent out a group e-mail announcing my summer vacation field trip schedule - I now had to answer an almost equal number of questions. Questions such as: what time will you be going? do you think you'll go again in August? Can you get back to me closer to the date?

Sheesh, I thought, it'd be nice to have some company on our field trips, but it's really easier to just do it on my own. If I'd died last week, thought it would have been easier to do it on her own could have been my epitaph.

But standing there in the water, I started to giggle. I'd always thought my problem was that nobody wanted to help me but right at that moment I realized my real problem was that I didn't want to deal with all the baggage I associated with accepting help - the tit for tat, the expectations, the relationship-piness of it all.

I'd been blaming my loneliness on the world, when it was really me who was to blame. Really, I started giggling. To myself. In the water.

And then this guy looks at me with a serious expression on his face. He says something like "if you leave your hands on your board after you catch the wave, your balance will be better." And for the next hour or so,  Ernie - 50ish father of four, plumber, former gymnastics coach at Venice High and lifelong surfer - coaches me through the best surf session ever. He gives me tips on my hands, my board, going under, turning, catching the wave - everything I could have wanted, really. And I receive it with gratitude.

Finally worn out by Ernie's strenuous training regimen ("paddle, paddle, paddle!" he yells constantly) I say thank you and head to the parking lot. There I meet Mark - another Venice old timer - who admires my beat-up 1980 Mercedes Surf Wagon because it looks like the one his dad had back in the day, when he was a kid and they used to go on surf trips. We talk  cars and beaches and discover we're practically neighbors.

A few days later, when I wonder why all the surfers are gathered on the north side of the Venice Pier rather than the south, I'm schooled in swells and tides by John, the surfer foregrounded in the photo above.

What more can I say? Maybe it's not easier to just do it on my own.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Case I'd Forgotten...It Takes a Village

This week, my friend Grant's family was in town from Kansas City to celebrate his college graduation. On Monday, they invited us to spend the day on the beach. While other family members kept an eye on the older kids, Grant's Mom Connie volunteered to look after Ashton while I hit the waves.

It was a beautiful day - sunny and warm. The waves were not big, but they were big enough. There was a strong rip current, but otherwise conditions were perfect.

Even though I could see that Connie was a watchful grandma, I kept checking on her and Ashton from my location in the water. Due to Ashton's new red hat, they were easy to spot.

As I watched them, it occurred to me that it was due to Connie that I was surfing. And it occurred to me that, as a mother, it is only due to other people that I am able to do anything. And that is because, as a mother, I am not only responsible for myself but for other people as well.

And because I am responsible for those others, I am essentially, no longer an individual. I may inhabit one body, but I am no longer "one."

So much of my conflict as a parent has stemmed from my insistence that I am still an individual. So much of the conflict I think so many parents experience stems from the fact that our society, our culture, expects all people - each of whom inhabits only one body - to be an individual when, in fact, many of us are not. When in fact, none of us are, though for some of us - estranged from family, estranged from community, "single", childless -  it may be easier to deny.

The  realization that a statement like "we are all one" is neither metaphor, nor abstract ideal, has, frankly, blown my mind. Previously, I'd thought it was something a person "gets" when on acid, or ecstasy, or once they have achieved enlightenment. It was never something I thought I'd grasp from simply standing in chest high waves on Venice Beach.